Saturday, November 04, 2006

[1980] INFERNO: Those Argento/De Palma comparisons are really apt, I think--both love playing around with your expectations much more than giving you what you think you want. Inferno, for instance, put me in a sense of constant dread throughout, but most of the payoffs were pretty tame--a lady gets attacked by cats, a corpse slowly floats into view, death personified turns out to be a skeleton in a hood. But maybe anything would be tame compared to the buildup Argento was giving all these scenes. He sort of throws every part of the screen vocabulary that means "something bad is about to happen" at you--cameras that follow their victims, actors on one side of the frame and you just know something bad is going to pop into the other side (though it doesn't), voices in the background, quick cuts to random violence, corners that the actors can see around but we can't. And then somebody does get attacked or Leigh McCloskey finds Mater Tenebrarum's secret chamber and Argento tells Keith Emerson to crank up the synthesizers as if to say, "Relax, kids! Just messing with you. The scary part is over now." Until the next scary part--and this movie is all scary parts where it isn't slow-developing murder scenes. Some reviewers have noted that Inferno is sort of a filmed nightmare and I agree with that; the characters are compelled to swim into underground chambers and pull up floorboards and travel down into What Lies Beneath in a way that reminded me of that sort of passive action that happens during a dream. And it's a nightmare because of all the dread, obviously, and because McCloskey's character basically gets to wake up in the end and escape the nightmare. He's so wooden in this that it has to be intentional--he's dream-acting! (Irene Miracle plays his sister--if there was a Special Acheivement Oscar for Best Underwater Performance she'd have one.) So yeah--if you're the kind of person who can't enjoy a horror film because the characters make dumb decisions this is definitely not the film for you. But if you can accept the characters as basically actors in a dream--or don't need a ton of blood and guts to get your thrills--you may enjoy this quite a bit.

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